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Gender Roles in Toy Stores Essay

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Updated: Apr 8th, 2020


The recent rapid and quite radical change in the perception of gender roles in the society has heralded a new era in gender issues analysis. The idea that gender roles are not necessarily attributed to one’s biological sex, however, has sparked a range of questions, the process of gender roles learning to be the key one. Surprisingly enough, toys seem to be the first introduction of an individual to the rigid set of gender roles and principles of gender behavior that may be considered obsolete based on the recent changes within the society.

A study carried out on the subject of gender roles was aimed at defining the patterns in the design, promotion, and use of toys for children that global brands, such as Toys R Us, Happy Hippo, and Qquinderella include. The study embraced the products created for children aged 0-13 years old. Particularly, the characters from specific popular movies, as well as other pop-culture references, as well as the dolls and toys that represented or were related to a particular profession, were identified in the course of the study.

The evaluation of the results has shown that there is an obvious pattern in creating gender-specific toys. Particularly, the toys created for the male demographics presupposed training the qualities such as leadership skills, strength, resourcefulness, etc. the toys for the female buyers, in their turn, were supposed to enhance the need to nurture and supported family values.

Remarkably enough, the toys for infants were much more homogenous for both genders than the toys for older children. Therefore, it can be assumed that toys define gender roles to a significant extent, making children memorize and adopt certain behavioral patterns years before they are capable of understanding and analyzing these patterns.


Toy stores currently are more gender-specific in marketing and advertising of toys. They have a clear distinction between toys meant for boys and girls. Their manner of packaging, store arrangement, and nature of toys clearly demonstrate these differences. I recognized this fact when I visited the toys section in a Wal-Mart shop. There were sections marked “for girls” and “for boys,” with only a few items on categories marked “for all.”

Curious, I checked Disney’s online store and found a similar pattern, sections marked for both “girls” and “boys.” It is important to note that society has made tremendous steps in ending gender-specific roles if the changes in advertising in the recent decade are anything to go by. The classification of toys, according to gender, could negatively affect children by convincing them that certain objects and roles are specific to a certain gender.

Research by Francis (2010) reveals that gender-specific toys have certain effects on children. Although there is no proof that they could result in any biases, they do not add any educative value to the children, which is important in addition to entertainment purposes. Blakemore and Renee (2005) support this argument pointing out that compared to gender-specific toys, gender-neutral toys have a higher likelihood of adding educative value to children.

Auster and Claire (2012) point out that adverting influences the type of choices children make on toys they play with. According to their research, color is an important factor in toy marketing, and this influences children’s choices on toys. While girls opt for brightly colored toys with neon colors, boys prefer more pastel-colored toys (Auster & Claire, 2012).

According to Fisher-Thompson et al. (1995), two of the major differentiating factors in toys for girls and boys are color and nature. Toys targeting girls have bright colors such as pink and purple, while boys’ toys have pastel colors. The nature of toys differs substantially too.

Toys meant for girls concentrate on domestic traits, while those meant for boys demonstrate aggressive tendencies argue (Fisher-Thompson et al., 1995). Hence, girls’ toys focus on the appearance and attractiveness of the girls with the aim of reinforcing domestic skills. Boys’ toys, on the other hand, portray competitive nature and character and are generally more violent. Among the rows of toys in many retail chains, boys’ toys come first, and then girls’ follow (Auster & Claire, 2012, 378).

Raag (1999) points out that society places certain expectations for both boys and girls. Although there are significant milestones made to achieve gender equality, the reality is that women will remain feminine and men masculine. Their research revealed that children are aware of the expectation of society in relation to their gender roles.

In the 1920s and progressive years of the 1950s, women did not engage in what the society considered male-jobs (Freeman, 2007). Then, advertisements targeted promoting the social gender roles among women and men. Parents would get their daughters household toys and farm machinery toys for their sons.

This was in line with the then gender roles, which emphasized on women being homemakers and men working in the manufacturing industry. The cultivated docile behavior among women prevented them from engaging in aggressive activities and made them less competitive.

Although toy stores take the largest blame for enhancing stereotypic gender roles in children, parenting also holds big blame. Serbin (2001) argues that toy stores enhance these stereotypes propagated by parenting. In their research, these scholars established that at the age of 18 months, both girls and boys were aware of the gender stereotypes/

The results of this research will prove that, indeed, toy stores enhance gender role stereotyping. It will prove that these stereotypes have significant effects on children as they grow up, and can potentially affect their behavior and character.

It is expected that the study will show a rather strong correlation between the gender roles that are promoted in contemporary society and the toys that are offered to children by most large producers. Particularly, it is expected that the results will return a rather large percentage of toys enhancing nurturing qualities in young girls and leadership skills in boys starting from the age of three and onwards, whereas the toys or infants are assumed to be rather homogenous.


In the course of the study, two key variables were observed. Particularly, the cohesion between the gender roles in the contemporary society and the development of specific gender roles in young children (a dependent variable), as well as the toys that are suggested to young children by the companies such as Toys R Us, Happy Hippo and Cinderella (independent variables) was analyzed.

As far as the research design is concerned, the research design can be defined as qualitative, since there was no actual need for quantifying the research data.

The study was carried out as twofold research; to be more exact, the literature review was followed by a qualitative analysis of the data retrieved from the observation of the products displayed at the target stores (i.e., Happy Hippos, Toys R Us and Cinderella). The second data collection tool, i.e., the observation of the toys sold at the designated shops, was the second stage of the study.

The data retrieved in the course of both steps of the research were analyzed with the help of the grounded theory approach; particularly, the theory regarding the effects that specific toys and their promotion to either male or female demographics has on the behavioral patterns thereof.

In the course of the study, the data transcribed were categorized into several key groups, i.e., the explicit gender stereotypes that the products displayed, the area of adult life that they referred to, and the price related characteristics of the product. The table in the next section displays the key information retrieved.


Table 1. Key Data Categories

Shop/Category Type of toy Area of adult life Quality Price Gender Gender stereotype
Toys R Us Barbie dolls Appearance Medium/High Medium/High Female Appearance stereotype
Toys imitating kitchen utensils Household Low/Medium Low/Medium Female/Both Nurturing stereotype
Pool toys Low/Medium Low/Medium Both None
J. I. Joe Army Low/Medium Low/Medium Social (“men are better fighters”)
Hot Wheels Driving Low/Medium Low/Medium Male Technological stereotype (“men are better at technology and driving vehicles”)
Cinderella Bouncy Balls None Low Low Both None
Barbie Household, appearance High High Female Women as housewives
Building blocks None Low Low Both None
Walmart Nerf guns Agility Low/Medium Low Both None
Happy Hippo Stuffed animals None Medium Low Both None
Dolls and dollhouse sets Family roles Medium Medium Female Family values
Frozendolls Appearance Medium High Female Appearance stereotype
Calico Critter None Both None
Accessories for dolls: jewelry, dresses, glitter Appearance and fashion Medium Medium Female Femininity stereotype (appearance)
Accessories for bowling, biking, cheerleading Leisure Medium Medium Both/Female (cheerleading) Supporting function (cheerleading)
Target My Little Pony Social interactions Medium Medium Female Being friendly and communicative
Army toys, Ninja Turtles Army Medium Low/Medium Male Courage, fighting against evil, being the hero
Toys representing a profession (firefighters, policemen, soldiers, etc.) Work Medium/High High Male Leadership skills/courage stereotype

It is quite peculiar that Walmart was the only store that had toys, which did not fit the concept of gender stereotyping. Particularly, the fact that the Nerf guns were displayed in the aisle for girls deserves to be mentioned, therefore, Walmart is the only store that not only reinforced but also subverted some of the current gender stereotypes by suggesting that girls could also be interested in active games.

The total number of aisles for both boys and girls toys in the five stores surveyed made 20 isles for each category. The age range for both boys and girls was 0-12, appearing in three out of the five stores. Toys at R Us had the highest age range of 0-13 years, and the lowest age range was at Cinderella’s. All five stores had non-gender specific toys. There were varying types of toys on display in all the five stores. The researcher summarized these into broader categories depending on their use for the purpose of data analysis and presentation.

Dolls for the girls’ category appeared five times, indicating that all five stores had dolls for girls. Housewares, on the other hand, appeared twice. Games appeared only once in the girls’ category, with only Wal-Mart stocking games toys targeting girls. All five stores, however, had five different types of sports toys for girls. Sports toys and games toys for boys appeared in all the five stores. Machinery appeared in 3 of the five stores, while guns, animals, and machinery each appeared three times.

colors for girls toys
Chart 1 Colors for girls’ toys
colors for boys toys
Chart 2. Colors for boys’ toys

In addition, the color-coding of the toys found at the specified stores was quite gender-specific. To be more exact, pink and purple were the key colors that the products for girls were painted, whereas the toys for the male demographics were predominantly blue and red, as the chart above shows.

Moreover, the study of the toys suggested by most toy stores has shown that in most cases, toys support the gender stereotypes that are foisted on children by society. Particularly, the fact that most of the toys created for girls reinforced the idea of nurturing and caring, whereas most toys for boys promoted the concept of winning, being the leader, etc., deserves to be mentioned.


Results from the study indicate that toy stores specify gender roles according to their arrangement, color, and type. Toymakers and sellers target both boys and girls equally, owing to the number of aisles to display toys. The equal number of aisles shows that there was no business in preference on who to target while making toys.

Additionally, age ranged from infant years to 13 years. This shows that at the age of 13, a child is mature enough to use toys. However, the most preferred age was 12 years. This is the age at which children stop playing with toys. At this stage, they prefer engaging in socializing rather than playing.

Interestingly, there were no variations in the pricing of toy on offer. This is an indication that there was a special category between girls and boys. Prices differed depending on the brand of the toy and the complexity. Hence, in some common categories such as sports, there were similar prices.

Among the toys on display, there were both gender-specific and non-gender specific toys. For instance, a saxophone could have pink and blue colors. However, they used gender-crossover probability while mixing the toys. There are minimal chances that a boy would pick a toy from the girls section, compared to a girl picking a toy from the boys section. Although toys meant for boys were mainly of the masculine in nature and of pastel in color, occasional brightly colored toys appeared in the boys section.

Although sports were a common occupation predetermined in all categories, it is important to note the difference in the nature of these sports. Boys’ sports are more masculine, competitive, and violent compared to those of girls. Boys are likely to engage in violent and energetic sports like racing, athletics, wrestling, football, and soccer, while girls prefer docile and feministic games like cheerleading, dancing, and gymnastics. In reality, though, there are male dancers and female footballers.

The results further indicate the deliberate occupational suggestions for both boys and girls according to the toys on display. The results depict the boy child as more active and can engage in masculine jobs like engineering, army soldiers, police officers, firefighters, and athletes.

On the other hand, women are homemakers, with most of the toys suggesting so. At least in every store, there were toys on housewares for girls. This is wrong, as it creates the impression that women are homemakers from the 1920s to 1960s perception. Currently, there are women engineers, soldiers, police officers, athletes, and firefighters, just like there are men cooks, bakers, homemakers, and caregivers.

Results from this study are important as they show how unknowingly; the society defines gender according to the roles handled by men and women. Parents should consider the kind of toys they buy their children, as these could define their career paths in the future. As previous research indicated, boys and girls of the age of 18 months can tell the kind of games they are supposed to play by simply looking at pictures (Klinger, 2001).

The research results would have been more homogenous, though, if a younger audience was chosen as the focus of the study. Future research should focus on identifying the effects of gender-specific toys on the character and behavior of children. Investigating the ways in which a child is likely to behave when they are aware that they are crossing-gender, it is important to show the effects of gender-specific toys on their behavior and character.

Reference List

Auster, C. J., & Mansbach, C. S. (2012). The gender marketing of toys: An analysis of color and type of toy on the Disney store website. Sex Roles, 67(7-8), 375-388.

Blakemore, J., Owen, E. & Centers, R. E. (2005). Characteristics of boys’ and girls’ toys. Sex Roles, 53(9-10), 619-633.

Fisher-Thompson, D., Sausa, A. D.& Wright, T. F. (1995). Toy selection for children: Personality and toy request influences. Sex Roles, 33(3-4), 239-255.

Francis, B. (2010). Gender, toys and learning. Oxford Review of Education, 36(3), 325-344.

Freeman, N. K. (2007). Preschoolers’ perceptions of gender appropriate toys and their parents’ beliefs about genderized behaviors: Miscommunication, mixed messages, or hidden truths? Early Childhood Education Journal, 34(5), 357-366.

Klinger, L. J., Hamilton, J. A. & Cantrell, P. J. (2001). Children’s perceptions of aggressive and gender-specific content in toy commercials. Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, 29(1), 11-20.

Raag, T. (1999). Influences of social expectations of gender, gender stereotypes, and situational constraints on children’s toy choices. Sex Roles, 41(11), 809-831.

Serbin, L. A. (2001). Gender stereotyping in infancy: Visual preferences for and knowledge of gender-stereotyped toys in the second year. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 25(1), 7-15.

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